19
Oct
10

A Halo: Reach Mind-dump: It’s All I’ve Played For A Month

Halo: Reach

Turns out that if you work full time and go to school full time at the same time you get less time to type stuff.  Well, here’s to another effort of that not happening again!

Let’s kick this revival out in style with yet another post about Halo: Reach because this blog doesn’t have enough posts about it.  It’s been out for about a little over a month, now, so it seems like a good time to dump some words on the screen about what I think about this most Halo-ist of Halos.  Excuse the writing quality; this is literally a dump of words without much review, and my brain’s been melting from too much work in yacc.

Campaigning: As a self-contained plot line, Reach’s is relatively straight forward to follow compared to the main Halo line of games.  Callbacks are kept to an effective minimum.  All that’s really said is that “Here’s this planet, and it’s totally going to get screwed up.”  With that, you get a relatively admirable tale of a team of Spartans putting it on the line in the face of crushing defeat.  The Spartans themselves even approach some level of likability, which can’t be said for a lot of characters in these big-budget shooters.  It’s almost a shame that they probably won’t be equated with the series as much as Master Chief or maybe even as much as the deadpan Arbiter is.  Looking at the plot broadly, it’s still nothing special, but I believe that in its simple way it chooses its themes of valor and sticks to them, it stands above a lot of its peers (in that it isn’t entirely offensive due to quality or complete inanity).

You play your custom character through the campaign, just like you do in multiplayer, and they can either be set as male or female.  The attention of detail Bungie puts in their games extends to their work in setting up its campaign to support both genders through two different voice actors and multiple versions of lines from other characters when referencing the player character (‘he’ vs. ‘she’).  With other developers, it would be extra polish, but for Bungie it seems like it’s par for their quality.  Setting up your own blank-slate character to play through the campaign removes some characterization (which would be whenever Master Chief has a punchy one-liner, I guess) but adds a slight sense of ownership to the story.  You are the person that picked out every detail in that helmet you put on in the beginning of the game, so it almost becomes your story of how you defended this planet.

The campaign features solid and mostly familiar Halo gameplay.  Watch a cutscene, follow some dudes, shoot some dudes, dudes follow you, and then you shoot some more.  There are some fun set pieces, but none seem to be as memorable as some of the frantic escapes and giant pitched battles that previous games had, however.  Space battles add a unique flavor to the campaign, but that sequence is pretty short.  I might be biased, though: battles in space are never too long for me.  There is a remarkable vehicle-centric mission late in the game that is built out of a large collection of possible events that the game stitches together in random order.  The variety of that mission, as well as the breathtakingly rendered setting it takes place in, is my own favorite standout of the campaign.

The different armor abilities lie scattered about the level like weapons are, so different situations can be approached with a different style of play (jetpack flanking, stealth with the active camo, sprint ‘n gun, absolute chaos with the hologram, and so on) and not just through different flanking paths or weapon selection.  The abilities adds to the campaign in a similar way they add to the multiplayer in that it increases the amount of different situations one can encounter in a specific area.  Armor abilities are still one of my favorite additions in this game, whatever mode it may be.

Firefighting: The variety of action available in Firefight is astounding.  From a straight-up fight with the Covenant down to straight-up massacres (either fields of Grunts, or fields of anything while wielding an infinite rocket launcher), there seems to be a mode for whatever mood I might be in.  Gruntpocalypse draws you in with the feel of absolute dominance (paired with kids’ voices and confetti) but still keeps you on your toes by reminding you that it’s still just you versus approximately one billion of them and if you start bounding around the corners too fast, you’ll inevitably be greeted with enough explosions to send you to, well, a Halo.  Regular Firefight is still a tough test of skill, either by yourself or with some strangers or friends.  The addition of matchmaking for this mode is great, but you still want to have as many friends as possible with you.  The sheer wall of death that appears with a communicating group on the field is an awesome sight compared to four dopes running for the power weapons.  The ‘novelty’ modes like Rocketfight and Sniperfight are simply fun to have around, especially when this game has numerous other terrifying ways to challenge you.  There are times when you want to test your abilities to the limit, and sometimes you just want to blow up every single living thing in sight.  The game’s got you covered.

Challenging: The daily and weekly challenges put up a carrot-on-stick incentive for players to come back often.  Except the carrots are Credits.  The challenges waver from the unabashedly simple (kill things!) to the nerve-wracking (completing a mission on Legendary without dying, or getting 30 kills in a single multiplayer match).  I use the challenges to somewhat guide the way I play daily.  If Firefight challenges are featured, I’ll play more Firefight.  I have to pair that with a good sense of judgment with some of them, however.  On some days, I really don’t want to spend several hours in a hopper to kill 200 players, especially without friends to do it with.

I used the word ‘daily’ in that paragraph, and that is, in essence, what the goals of the challenges are: to constantly draw me back in time and time again.  Halo games, especially with their multiplayer components, always had a higher that usual factor of replay value, but it ran up against how you liked that particular title’s multiplayer and if you like the campaign scenarios enough on their own to replay them.  Challenges prod me to play to a target (“I can bust out 40 multiplayer kills easy, let’s rock this.”) or push me to try something I probably would never do that seems to be a fun challenge, like getting past a campaign mission perfectly with several skulls on.  I don’t think I’ve played campaign as much in any other Halo game ever as I have played in Reach, and that is due to the frequent suggestions from the daily challenges.  The challenges would still be nothing if the game was no fun to play, but it is fun to play, so they instead become, along with the ranking system, another line of addiction to follow alongside being addicted to the entertainment the game provides.  Outside of some weirdness between the difficulty of some of the challenges versus the relatively low amount of reward they give, it’s a great system that will probably get poached by others for quite some time.

Matchmaking: I think I’ve said my piece on multiplayer in Reach already, even if it was during the beta, but if you needed the reminder, it’s still tremendous fun with what I believe is the culmination of Bungie’s decade-long experience of making these damn things.  Lots of attentions is being played to how people are playing it, and it is already being shown off in the form of tweaks and updates to playlists and maps.  With the extra-powerful Forge in tow, they have even added new arenas for the hoppers to choose from before anyone pays a dime on a new map pack.  Whether it’s terrorizing the scoreboard in the Rumble Pit or becoming a terrifying wave of death across a map with your friends, Reach’s multiplayer should be something that should be looked at by everybody, even if you think Halo’s gameplay isn’t what you prefer out of a shooter.  With the well-refined balance and variety of weaponry, armor abilities, and modes available, there should at least be one permutation of gameplay that Reach can pull off that would put a smile on any face.

Just don’t take off in the Falcon without any side gunners.  That’s disrespecting the vehicle.

As a Halo game, Halo: Reach stands to me as the pinnacle of the series.  I do not envy the developers who will have their Halo title follow this one at all.

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intro

My name is Anthony Munar, a computer programmer in Utah. I also play a bunch of video games every now and then. I talk and think a lot about them, but I never really solidify those thoughts anywhere, and writing is something I like doing, so I thought I'd do it right here. I don't intend to be high-and-mighty authoritative about what I say and I don't really have any sort of standing in the games industry. This is just for me to muse about games when I want to.

Naming a blog these days was harder than I thought. In calculus, the inflection point on a curve is where its concavity changes between upwards and down. So, maybe, the inflection pixel is the pixel which represents something that turns my opinion around on a game, like the pixels representing a beam cannon firing in FreeSpace 2, the pixels representing a flying car wreck in Burnout, or the pixels representing my own sentry gun holding off an army in Team Fortress 2.

Using the word 'pixel' in naming something game-related seems clichéd, so sorry about that.

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